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Much Ado about Disney & the Muppets

Jim Hill returns with the latest stories and rumors that continue to swirl Disney’s recent acquisition. Jim talks about why various department heads at Disney are reluctant to get in the Muppet business. He also reveals some long-forgotten images from the never-built “The Great Muppet Movie Ride.”

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Do you remember the article that JHM ran last Monday about what a good job the Walt Disney Company had been doing reviving the Muppet franchise?

Well, you can scratch that, folks. Over the past week, I’ve had a number of employees who work in various  divisions of the Disney Corporation get in touch with me. And none of the people that I’ve spoken with over the past 7 days have had much good to say about what Disney’s been doing with the Muppets.

“So what’s the problem?,” you ask. Well, for starters, there’s the way that the Walt Disney Company initially went about acquiring these characters back in February. You see, Disney didn’t snatch Kermit & Co. away from the Jim Henson Company because the Mouse had this all-encompassing plan in place about what to do with the Muppets. But — rather — because Michael Eisner learned that a prize that had long eluded him was suddenly available for a very affordable price.

Said one unnamed Disney insider:

“You have to understand that Disney basically bought the Muppets as a trophy for Michael Eisner. You see, Uncle Mike never quite got over the idea that the Jim Henson Company had slipped through his fingers back in 1990. That’s why Eisner has continually pursued this company — on and off — for the past 15 years. All because Henson was ‘the big one that got away.’

Well, once Eisner finally got his trophy, he had to actually justify the cost of acquiring these characters from Henson. Which is why Michael then turned to his trusted lieutenant — Chris Curtin — and said: “You’re now in charge of selling the Muppets to all the divisions at Disney. So get these folks cracking on turning out new Muppet stuff.”

The only problem is … Most of the heads of the departments at Disney are still sitting on their hands when it comes to the Muppets. They’re reluctant to spend good money on what many people consider to be a faded franchise.”

Why would the department heads at Disney be thinking this? Well, I’m told that the company commissioned a survey that served up some pretty sobering results when it came to revealing what the public really thought of the Muppets. The way I hear it, Henson’s creations have very limited appeal these days. Only adults from 25 – 48 (I.E. People who actually grew up watching the Muppets on TV on “Sesame Street” and “The Muppet Show”) seem to have any real interest in seeing new Muppet stuff. And — even among these folks — the Muppets’ appeal is mostly a kitsch / nostalgia-based thing.

So — given that each division of the Walt Disney Company (Be it ESPN or Baby Einstein) is tasked with making money for the Mouse — no one relishes the idea of getting behind this seemingly dead-in-the-water set of characters right now. After all, it may take years — and ten of millions of dollars — before this franchise can finally start making some serious cash for the corporation. So why not let some other department at Disney take the risk?

This is why so many division heads at the Walt Disney Company are reportedly hanging back when it comes to the Muppets. Take — for example — the corporation’s theme parks. Their entertainment offices — citing the excuse that all of their funding for 2005 has already been allocated for “Disney’s Golden Celebration” (AKA The Disney corporation’s worldwide & year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the opening of Disneyland) — have actually pushed back their plans to bring any Muppet-related shows into the theme parks ’til at least 2006.

And Disney Consumer Products … Well, given that licensors aren’t exactly beating down Disney’s doors in order to win the rights to produce new Muppet-based material, you can bet that these guys aren’t that thrilled about all the extra effort that they’re going to have to put in in order to make Kermit & the gang seem commercially viable again.

Speaking of an extra effort … I’m told that Chris Curtin — the general manager and vice president of the Muppet Holding Company LLC — really puts on one hell of a show as he tries to sell the various department heads at Disney on the idea of finally getting serious about the Muppets. I hear that there are charts, graphs, bells, whistles. This really must be one hell of a PowerPoint presentation.

The only problem is … Curtin’s become the Walt Disney Company’s equivalent of Willy Loman. What he’s trying to sell, many divisions at the Disney Company just aren’t buying. Which is why the Muppets continue to languish at the Mouse House.

“But … but … but,” you stammer. “Chris Curtin’s supposed to be Michael Eisner’s longtime lieutenant, right? So shouldn’t that mean that Chris can get Michael’s help? Have Eisner order the various divisions of the company to start rushing Muppet-based stuff into production?”

Well, yes. In theory, that’s how the system should work. But the fact of the matter is … What with having to deal with all of that “Save Disney” nonsense, then stepping down as Chairman of the Disney corporation, dealing with his own succession issues instead of getting ready for the Ovitz compensation trial, Michael Eisner’s been really distracted these past few months. Which is why Disney’s CEO  hasn’t been able to pay much attention to what’s been going on with the Muppets.

Which — to be honest — suits the heads of the various divisions at Disney just fine. Given that there’s a very strong possibility that Michael Eisner may be out of power as early as June of 2005, some department heads are deliberately dragging their feet right now. Waiting to see if Disney’s next CEO is just as gung-ho as Eisner is about Henson’s creations.

That may explain why — to date — only three divisions of the Disney corporation have heeded Chris Curtin’s call and begun working on Muppet-related projects. These departments of the company are:

  • Disney.com
  • Buena Vista Home Entertainment
  • ABC Television

Of course, it’s fairly easy to understand why these three divisions at Disney were so quick to get in the Muppet business. Disney.com is always looking to up its hit count. So it just stands to reason that — the sooner Muppets.com is up & running — the sooner the Mouse can start snatching customers away from Henson.com, MuppetCentral.com, toughpigs.com and kermitage.com.

As for Buena Vista Home Entertainment … These guys are constantly on the prowl for new titles to put in Disney’s retail pipeline. Which is why these guys are already hard at work churning out those full season “Muppet Show” DVD sets.

And ABC … Well — at the time when Disney initially acquired the Muppets — the Alphabet Network was still in the toilet. Which was why ABC was perfectly happy to grab a Muppet-related project that the Jim Henson Company had originally developed for Fox and schedule that TV movie to run during the network’s May 2005 sweeps.

And that TV movie is — of course — “The Muppet Wizard of Oz.” The high-profile project that many folks at Disney hope will finally the characters back into the spotlight.

The only problem is … There have recently been some disquieting rumors about “The Muppet Wizard of Oz.” How this project — which was once supposed to have been a top tier TV movie like ABC’s remake of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” which Disney produced back in 1997 for $17 million — suddenly had its budget scaled back. Though no one that I spoke with at the Mouse House this past week wanted to go on record about what “Oz” supposedly cost now, insiders have suggested that this new Muppet TV movie actually cost about as much to produce as the Muppets’ last TV movie, 2002’s “It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie.”

And — given that press reports from when “It’s a Very Muppet Christmas Movie” initially aired on NBC suggested that that TV movie cost $10 million to produce … Well, I’ll leave it to you to decide what Disney cut the budget of “Muppet Wizard of Oz” back to.

This news — plus those persistent rumors that  Mouse House officials may have also mucked with this TV movie’s script just prior to the start of production — doesn’t exactly bode well for “The Muppet Wizard of Oz.” Which is why some Disney insiders are already pinning their hopes on the projects that follow “Oz.”

“And what might those projects be?,” you query. Well, I’m told that Disney has already copywritten titles for at least two other TV movies: “The Muppet Alice in Wonderland” and “The Muppet Peter Pan.”

(Speaking of the Muppets & that much beloved JM Barrie story … Did you know that the Imagineers already had plans to send Kermit & Co. off to Neverland? Strange but true, folks? As part of the “Great Muppet Movie Ride,” a project that was planned for the Disney-MGM theme park but ultimately never built, the Muppets were supposed to have parodied Disney’s 1953 version of “Peter Pan.” You can see a concept drawing for this particular sequence in that attraction below)

There’s also supposedly been some semi-serious talk of doing yet another seasonally based “Muppet” TV movie. Something along the lines of “It’s a Very Muppet Christmas Movie.” A television program that’s deliberately designed to be a perennial. Only this TV movie would celebrate some holiday other than Christmas.

With this in mind, Disney is supposedly eyeballing a script that the Jim Henson Company once developed for a “Muppet Haunted Hotel” film. With the thought that — with a little bit of rewriting — this project could possibly become a Muppet Halloween TV movie that Disney could run in 2006 or 2007.

(Speaking of horror … Another one of the sequences that the Imagineers mapped for “The Great Muppet Movie Ride” was a scene where Kermit & Co. sent up James Whale’s 1931 horror classic, “Frankenstein.” You can see the concept drawing for that sequence — which includes a monster-sized Beaker — below.)

Okay. While fans will probably be glad to hear that there may soon be other Muppet TV movies entering Disney’s production pipeline, the downside is … There are currently no plans to do any new Muppet theatrical releases. Nor is there a new weekly TV series starring the Muppets under consideration at ABC. (You see, now that the Alphabet Network has a couple of hit series [I.E. “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost”], they’re not as desperate as they once were for new Muppet-based show ideas. Why is which ABC execs supposedly told Chris Curtin to get “lost” when that Disney rep recently came by to pitch them on the idea of the network running a new Muppet TV series.)

Mind you, even though ABC isn’t currently in the market for a Muppet-based TV series, I hear that the Disney Channel may soon be. There’s been some semi-serious talk about the basic cable channel reviving the old “Muppet Babies” TV series. Though — instead of using traditional animation to show Baby Gonzo, Scooter & Skeeter at play — Disney now reportedly plans to use motion-capture technology to produce an all-new CG version of that same show, which would then air in the Disney Channel’s “Playhouse Disney” programming block.

There’s also been rumors that this basic cable channel is also looking into reviving an idea for a Muppet-based TV series that Jim Henson himself once pitched: “Muppet High.” This proposed TV series — which was to have feature teenage versions of Kermit, Fozzieet al — looks to be a smart fit with the Disney Channel’s early evening line-up. When the Mouse aggressively pursues tween viewers.

So — as you can see — there’s some disturbing trends afoot concerning the intergration of the Muppets into the Walt Disney Company, despite Chris Curtin’s best efforts. With Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo & pals continually being forced to play characters other than themselves, or having to play babies or teenaged versions of themselves. Some longtime observers of the Muppets think that this is a rather odd way to try & introduce these characters to a new generation. I mean, how are consumers supposed to get to know Kermit & Co. if the Muppets don’t actually ever look or act like the characters that people have loved for nearly 50 years now?

Speaking of which … 2005 is the 50th anniversary of the Muppets. But do you think that Disney has any plans to acknowledge this anniversary? NOOOOOOO … All of Disney’s marketing might has been thrown behind that “Disney’s Golden Celebration” event. Though I hear that there is a potentially fun idea in the works for 2006. Which is that Disney celebrates the Muppets’ 51st anniversary in a rather hurriedly & deliberately-slapped-together-looking  manner. As if both the Mouse & the Frog had forgotten that this anniversary was coming up.

Well, that’s it for today, folks. I promise that we’ll explore all the subjects that we’ve touched on today in future JHM columns. As well as address some other intriguing issues …

“What other intriguing issues?,” you ask. Well … Why do you suppose — when  the Mouse acquired the Muppets — Disney turned that holding company into an LLC? Why would Mickey’s lawyers insist on doing something like that? The answer may surprise you …

But that’s a story for another time …

Your thoughts?

jrh

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling

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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse’s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit  ExpertGriller.com prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont

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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage

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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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